A quiet holiday at a secluded hotel in Devon is all that Hercule Poirot wants. Inevitably, he connects with the others on holiday. Arlena Marshall is a beautiful actress and a flirtatious young woman with many men attracted to her. She goes to the Jolly Roger Hotel with her husband and stepdaughter, Kenneth and Linda Marshall. Linda Marshall (aged 16) hates her step-mother. Arlena flirts with handsome Patrick Redfern, to the evident fury of his wife, Christine, a former schoolteacher. Also staying at the hotel are Hercule Poirot; Sir Horace Blatt, a braggart; Major Barry, a retired Anglo-Indian military officer with an endless series of stories to tell; Rosamund Darnley, an exclusive fashionable dressmaker, who had formerly been Kenneth's sweetheart; Carrie Gardener, a garrulous American tourist, and her husband, Odell; Reverend Stephen Lane; and Miss Emily Brewster, a quite athletic spinster.
Early on the morning of the murder of Arlena, alibis collect. Linda drops a parcel of candles when Christine asks her to Gull Cove. Arlena paddles to Pixy Cove obviously for a rendezvous; Poirot disbelieves her request for solitude. But both Kenneth and Patrick seek her. Finally Patrick asks Emily to join her daily row. He finds a body lying arms outstretched, face hidden by a hat, but red curls peeking out. Good at managing heights, he stays, while Emily gets the doctor, who diagnoses strangulation by powerful hands, therefore male.
Poirot and the police question the suspects. Kenneth was heard typing letters specifically responding to figures in previous mail. Linda falsely claims she was fond of her stepmother. By her watch, she and Christine went to Gull Cove at 10:30 and returned at 11:45, giving them an alibi. The Gardeners were with Poirot the entire time. Rosamund was seen reading at Sunny Ledge (above Pixy Cove) by Emily and Patrick. Rev. Lane and Major Barry went out, and Sir Horace Blatt went sailing. Christine, Rosamund, Kenneth and Mr Gardener all went to play tennis at noon. Earlier in the day, Miss Brewster was nearly hit on the head by an empty bottle tossed from one of the bedroom windows, so Poirot asks the chambermaid if she has observed a bottle missing. The chambermaid cannot tell, but did note another odd occurrence: somebody ran a bath at noon but everyone denies having done so.
At Pixy Cove, Poirot and police find a pair of new scissors, a fragment of pipe that could belong to many smokers, and heroin. Inside the cave, Poirot also sniffs a delicate exclusive perfume only used by Arlena and Rosamund. Poirot invites everyone on a picnic to test their vertigo. Christine and Emily both claimed fear of heights (acrophobia), but Christine easily traversed the bridge – thus she lied. After the picnic, Linda is found overdosed on six of Christine's sleeping pills, and almost dies. She has written a confession, but Poirot found her library book about magic, melted wax and a pin, and realised she mistook piercing a voodoo image for murder. Christine made sure her tablets were handy, provoking the guilt-ridden Linda to take them.
Poirot asks for similar recent nearby cases of strangulation. Alice Corrigan was found by a local school teacher, while her husband Edward was supposedly too far away to have committed the murder. But a photograph from Surrey police identify Patrick Redfern as Edward Corrigan and the teacher, a games mistress, as Christine Redfern, then known as Christine Deverill, Patrick's true love and accomplice. Patrick was not Arlena's victim, but vice versa. Patrick pretended to be smitten and bilked her of most of her inherited fifty thousand pounds for "fabulous opportunities".
Arlena was unsuspecting, but if Kenneth knew that she had nearly emptied the account, he would become suspicious and Patrick would find himself in a difficult predicament. So Patrick and Christine decided to get rid of her. Arlena went on that fatal day to meet Patrick, as Poirot had surmised. Patrick instructed her to remain hidden in the cave if anyone came around. Meanwhile, Christine set Linda's watch 20 minutes forward. When she asked Linda to check the time, her alibi was set. Later, she adjusted the watch back. Christine went to her room, applied suntan makeup then wore large-sleeved clothes to hide her fake tan, sneaked out of the hotel to the Cove, and pretended to be the supposedly dead Arlena. Emily, who, with Patrick, "found" her was easily fooled. Christine then returned to her hotel room and took a bath to wash off the tan; the bath that everyone denied taking. She then threw the empty makeup bottle out a window, which nearly hit Miss Brewster. Meanwhile, Patrick called an unsuspecting Arlena out of the cave and strangled her. Poirot needles Patrick into a near violent fury despite the cold-blooded Christine telling him to "be quiet".
Poirot tells Linda she is innocent, and confesses she will not hate her "next step-mother". In the final conversation, Rosamund agrees to give up her career for marriage to Kenneth, "I've wanted to live in the country with you all my life".Hercule Poirot, famous Belgian detective with magnificent moustaches and little "grey cells".
Colonel Weston, Chief Constable.
Inspector Colgate, investigating officer.
Sergeant Phillips, policeman.
Dr Neasdon, police surgeon.
Captain Kenneth Marshall, in his 40s, Arlena's husband, responsible, proud.
Arlena Stuart Marshall, actress until a year earlier, Kenneth's wife for the last four years.
Linda Marshall, Kenneth's 16-year-old daughter, Arlena's naive stepdaughter.
Patrick Redfern, Christine's husband, infatuated with Arlena.
Christine Redfern, Patrick's wife, tall and pretty "in a washed out way", "mousy".
Rosamund Darnley, fashionable dressmaker, Kenneth's long-ago sweetheart.
Emily Brewster, athletic spinster, rows daily.
Mrs Carrie Gardener, a garrulous American tourist.
Mr Odell Gardener, Carrie's patient American husband.
Horace Blatt, large and too loud, avoided by everyone.
Reverend Stephen Lane, who calls Arlena Marshall "evil through and through".
Major Barry, retired officer talks endlessly about India.
Gladys Narracott, chambermaid in the Jolly Roger Hotel.
Mrs Castle, owner of the Jolly Roger Hotel.
The verdict by Maurice Willson Disher in The Times Literary Supplement of 14 June 1941 was positive: "To maintain a place at the head of detective-writers would be difficult enough without the ever increasing rivalry. Even Miss Christie cannot stay there unchallenged though she has a following which will swear her books are best without reading the others. Unbiased opinion may have given the verdict against her last season when new arrivals set a very hot pace; but Evil Under the Sun will take a lot of beating now". After summarising the plot, the Mr. Disher concluded: "Miss Christie casts the shadow of guilt upon first one and then another with such casual ease that it is difficult for the reader not to be led by the nose. Everybody is well aware that any character most strongly indicated is not a likely criminal; yet this guiding principle is forgotten when Miss Christie persuades you that you are more discerning than you really are. Then she springs her secret like a land-mine."
In The New York Times Book Review of 19 October 1941, Isaac Anderson wrote, "The murder is an elaborately planned affair – a little too much so for credibility, in view of the many possibilities of a slip-up somewhere along the way – but Poirot's reasoning is flawless, as it always is. Evil Under the Sun adds another to the already long list of Agatha Christie's successful mystery tales."
Maurice Richardson in a short review in the 8 June 1941 issue of The Observer said, "Best Agatha Christie since Ten Little Indians – and one can't say much more than that – Evil Under the Sun has luxury summer hotel, closed-circle setting, Poirot in white trousers. Victim: redhead actress man-mad. Smashing solution, after clouds of dust thrown in your eyes, ought to catch you right out. Light as a soufflé."
The Scotsman of 3 July 1941 spoke of the "surprising discoveries" in the book's solution and said, "All of these the reader may best be left to encounter for himself in the assurance that the quest will prove as piquant as any this skilful writer has offered."
E.R. Punshon in The Guardian of 26 August 1941 briefly summed up the plot in a eulogistic piece which began, "Is it going too far to call Mrs. Agatha Christie one of the most remarkable writers of the day?"
Robert Barnard: "The classic Christie marital triangle plot set in West Country seaside resort, with particular play on the alikeness of sunbathing bodies, and dead ones. Possibly overingenious and slightly uncharacterised."
John Moffatt starred as Poirot in a 1999 BBC Radio 4 adaptation directed by Enyd Williams with a cast that included Iain Glen as Patrick Redfern, Fiona Fullerton as Arlena Marshall, Robin Ellis as Captain Marshall, Wendy Craig as Mrs Gardener, George Baker as Colonel Weston, and Joan Littlewood as Miss Brewster.
Evil Under the Sun was the second film to be made with Peter Ustinov as Poirot after his debut in the part in the 1978 film Death on the Nile. Diana Rigg played the ill-fated Arlena Marshall, and Denis Quilley her husband. The setting was moved to a secluded resort frequented by the rich and famous in the Adriatic Sea, but filmed in Majorca, Spain. There were a few changes from the book, such as the characters. Emily Brewster becomes Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall), author of Arlena's yet to be published tell-all biography. The Gardeners (James Mason, Sylvia Miles) are theatrical producers, Linda does not attempt suicide nor is she ever suspected of the murder, and the characters of Lane and Barry do not appear.
The novel was adapted as an episode in the series Agatha Christie's Poirot in 2001 starring David Suchet. It was mostly filmed on Burgh Island, Devon & Burgh Island Hotel, a location which inspired the writer's original novel and also And Then There Were None. Some changes were made in the adaptation. Kenneth Marshall's 16-year-old daughter Linda became a 17-year-old son Lionel. Instead of practising magic, Lionel was reading a book about poisoning and did not attempt suicide. The Gardeners were not among the guests. As with many of the early Poirot TV adaptations, the characters of Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon had larger roles than in the novel, with Hastings accompanying Poirot at the resort, Japp investigating the murder (a role performed by Colonel Weston in the book) and Lemon investigating Alice Corrigan's murder at Poirot's behest. This episode marked Japp's and Lemon's last appearances for ten years, until making their final appearances in The Big Four.
On 17 October 2007, The Adventure Company released a PC adaptation of the book. The game features actor Kevin Delaney as the voice of Hercule Poirot. This version includes the character of Captain Hastings as the player-character; as a game, Poirot re-creates the story, but allows Hastings to step into Poirot's shoes and solve the mystery as he would.1941, Collins Crime Club (London), June 1941, Hardback, 256 pp
1941, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), October 1941, Hardback, 260 pp
1945, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 183 pp (Pocket number 285)
1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
1963, Pan Books, Paperback, 217 pp
1971, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 362 pp
2008, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1941 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 1 April 2008, Hardback; ISBN 0-00-727455-6
The book was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in eleven parts from 14 December 1940 (Volume 106, Number 24) to 22 February 1941 (Volume 107, Number 8) with illustrations by Mario Cooper.